The Pivot Point
Spark Devices evolves, trading in the Socket for the Core
By Peter Jurmu
Shifting from consumer products to development kits was not part of Zach Supalla's initial plan for Spark Devices, his upstart tech company.
"In the start-up world, people talk about the 'pivot,'" Supalla '12 says, "which is the recognition that a certain business plan just isn't going to work, and a sudden change to try something new."
Despite some initial buzz, Supalla came to a realization with his team's first attempt at manufacturing a viable product, the Spark Socket – it just wasn't going to work.
The Spark Devices team had just arrived in Shenzhen, China, to join a hardware incubator when they recognized that fundraising efforts wouldn't bring in enough money to begin manufacturing the Socket, a dynamic device that used wireless Internet and user preferences to adjust lighting. Supalla scrapped his plan for development and offered up the Socket's hardware designs and software open source for anyone interested in continuing the project.
A new – and perhaps better – idea developed out of the Spark Socket: the Spark Core.
"The most important thing," Supalla says, "was for us to be able to move quickly. It helped a lot that most of the development work we did for the Socket applied directly to the Core."
The Spark Core uses the same Wi-Fi module as the Socket. Freed from the Socket's particular function, the Core allows developers — both hobbyists and makers — to implement wireless connectivity in their own products, and to update essential software with ease for both developer and user.
"This isn't just a platform for hobbyists and engineers," Supalla says. "This is a platform for any connected product, even ones sold on the shelf at Target or Best Buy."
The Core received more funding in 72 hours on Kickstarter than the Socket did during its entire 30-day campaign. At press time, Spark Devices had raised more than 56 times its initial goal and is rolling out additional Core features.
"Our vision is quite large," Supalla says. "I see a lot of potential in Internet-connected products across a wide array of industries, and I would like to make that happen."
Eric Butterman contributed to this report.